On May 6th, my wife I recently completed a "Tulips and Windmills" cruise on what turned out to be the maiden voyage of the Viking Freya, one of Viking's brand new class of "Longships". We are fairly seasoned travelers. This was our fourth river cruise. (The others include the Rhine with Viking and the lower Danube with Uniworld, as well as the Amazon and the Columbia.) We've also taken numerous other cruises with Windstar, Paul Gauguin, Hurtigruten, Carnival and others, and we plan to take many more cruises in the future. We have a good idea of what we like and what is reasonable to expect on a cruise.
Overall, our cabin was very nice. Among the things we liked were the heated bathroom floor, the big flat-screen TV, the safe and ample storage. I wish the weather was better so that we could have enjoyed the veranda, but there's nothing Viking could do about that. The shower is the best I've had on a cruise ship, and the towels are big and fluffy. I also really like the king-size sheets and duvets. Our biggest complaint about the cabin - and this is HUGE - is the damned glass bath/shower wall. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING???? Being able to transform the wall from clear to frosted (and back again) is certainly high tech and glitzy, but it significantly degraded our cruise experience. Why? Because there is no way to make the wall opaque, so whenever the bathroom light is turned on at night, the entire cabin is illuminated, thereby disturbing whoever is still in bed trying to sleep. This one single feature will prevent me from ever considering cruising on a Viking ship which is so equipped.
THE DINING ROOM
The food on the Viking Freya was almost always very good and nicely presented. The dinner portions were on the small side, which I think is just right. (I hate to see food wasted.) The one exception was the "highly recommended by the chef" sea bass, which was just awful: dry, overcooked, tough and flavorless. The included wines were decent and plentiful. I have three major dining concerns. First, the dining room is very, very noisy. We think this is because there are too many tables squeezed into too small a space with no partitions to break up the noise. Second, the dining staff was mostly inexperienced, often inefficient and frequently less-than-friendly. I'll chalk most of this up to it being a brand new ship. Third, the Aquavit venue breakfast offerings were too limited . . . seemingly little more than coffee and a couple of stale donuts.
The Viking Freya is new and shiny, and, as mentioned above, the cabins have several attractive features not found on other river cruise ships. But there are several things about the new "Longship" class that were disappointing. The biggest, single concern is that the lounge is cramped and simply too small to handle the passenger compliment. When there was a presentation or performance, not everyone could fit in there to see it. Numerous times, the staff set up a couple dozen uncomfortable folding chairs to try to handle the overflow, but even that didn't always work. We left a couple of lectures early because we couldn't see. Our impression is that Viking was so intent on creating Aquavit and the forward open dining area, that they cut back too much on lounge space. We also had several problems that I'll mostly chalk up to maiden voyage glitches. For example, the elevator almost never worked; the AC broke one night leaving rooms hot and uncomfortable; the TV weather channel was never programmed for "our" cruise, so we got weather reports for cities along the Danube; and for a few days there was a sewage problem that stunk up much of the 2nd level cabin area.
TOURS & EXCURSIONS
Not too much to say here. Mostly, the tours were good and well organized. I really like the personal receivers. I also like that they included several variants on many of the excursions, such as "regular" or "leisurely", and occasionally offered extended stays, (eg., in Brugge).
We wish the Viking Freya had a paperback book exchange area in the library. This has become common on almost all of the vessels we've cruised, (and in many hotels and B&B's as well). All they need is a couple of shelves designated and labeled for folks to drop off books they've finished, and/or to pick up books someone else has left. It's mostly self-monitoring and provides a useful service to the passengers.
On the last night of the cruise, the cruise director and staff pushed and cajoled passengers to buy raffle tickets for some unspecified mystery merchandise. They never told us ahead of time what they were raffling off or where the proceeds from the raffle would go. (The raffle items turned out to be a couple cheap Viking hats and towels.) The whole thing was unseemly.
I was annoyed by the way the cruise evaluation forms were handled, especially when the cruise director coached passengers to inflate the ratings on the forms. I think he was way out of line to do so. Early in the cruise, I asked the front desk person if I could get a copy of the form early in the cruise so I could fill out portions of it along the way. There are so many things that happen on days 1-4 that ought to be mentioned, but I forget about them by the end of the cruise, and I thought detailed comments would be especially useful for the maiden voyage of a new ship. But I was told "No". Instead, they handed them out the day before departure.
Viking is a quality company, but I think they have made several serious mistakes with their new class of "Longships". If we sail with Viking again, it will only be on one of their older, and preferably smaller, ships.